The Mother Lode: How honest are you about your COVID vacation travel?

Photo of Claire Tisne Haft
The snowman seemed sad, like COVID travel. He was in the front yard of a house in North River, N.Y., and seemed to express what we all felt.

The snowman seemed sad, like COVID travel. He was in the front yard of a house in North River, N.Y., and seemed to express what we all felt.

Contributed / Claire Tisne Haft /

I received the following text message last week from a friend:

Having a major COVID-related anxiety. Any chance you can have lunch?

2 seconds later:

I need someone to talk to.

1 second later:

Is it just me or is everyone traveling?

.052333 seconds later:

And pretending it’s over.

This friend’s children go to private school, so I reminded her that it was winter break for the Greenwich Public Schools, and that’s why it seemed like people were traveling. Because they were. People like us.

Thus the person my friend wanted to have lunch with — that would be me — was unable to have lunch because of the very thing that had made my friend need to meet up for lunch in the first place.

But was I “pretending it’s over”?

“Can we please just pretend this is over,” I said to my husband, Ian, two weeks ago. “Just for a week? We can drive, we can do something outdoors with face masks … like ski!”

Ian was insistent that skiing was a super-spreader activity to be avoided. Besides, his winter breaks in Tenafly, N.J., in the 1970s were “mellow” “at-home” events.

“We didn’t always have to rush off and go places,” he told me, with that you’ve-turned-into-one-of-those-Greenwich-women tone of voice, a timbre rife with crescendos of disgust and resignation.

But Ian’s winter breaks of yesteryear did not take place in the middle of a pandemic, where cabin fever was rendering our family akin to something out of the Oresteia. Ian’s childhood breaks took place in a household where he was openly referred to as “Mommy’s Precious” and allowed to watch “Fantasy Island.”

“I think if you’re careful and follow the rules,” my friend told me, “It’s OK to go away.”

But the rules are murky:

*Our pediatrician’s office told us that if we were traveling, we needed to quarantine for two weeks AND show proof of a negative COVID test upon our return, the rationale being that the virus could still be lingering, even if it didn’t show up on testing.

*Greenwich Public Schools advised that a negative test result would suffice.

*Greenwich Academy relies on weekly pool testing and daily questionnaires from an app called My MedBot, otherwise known as My MorningAlarmSystem.

*The YWCA Dolphins swim team needs two weeks quarantine — plus a negative test result.

“You know what I need?” my friend said. “Never to come back from vacation.”

To make matters worse, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidelines that differ from state guidelines, which — naturally — vary from state to state. It’s like peeling an onion from hell.

Then there’s all the personal judgment, a phenomenon which COVID has taken to new heights, even for Greenwich.

Will you travel in a car with your family to a contiguous state for a few days, where you avoid other people, stay among your family members, and take a test upon your return?

What fun!

“You are supposed to be with your family on vacation,” a friend pointed out.

“But I don’t want to be with THEM,” another friend responded.

Then there’s traveling to a noncontiguous state (my new favorite word, which can also be used to describe my current state of mind).

In this scenario, you may choose to avoid public transport, stay away from other people and test upon return — or if you are a Dolphin on the Dolphin Swim team, quarantine as well. Which begs the question: Do you have to follow the Dolphin rules while you’re in school, where technically you are not a Dolphin — but where you claim that you are, AND have all the corresponding merch to prove it?

This quandary leaves you in a state of noncontiguous thinking, making noncontiguous-state travel — how shall I put it? — noncontiguous.

Then there’s flying to the southernmost point of the United States, meeting friends from noncontiguous “high-alert” states who you haven’t seen since March, drinking margaritas on a well-populated beach, and lying about the whole thing when you get home even though you have a tan and your 3-year-old brings a conch to show-and-tell.

Then there’s the fact that no one, anywhere, is supposed to be doing nonessential travel to begin with.

“But that’s so December 2020,” I was told.

A friend was at a country club recently for dinner, and by the evening’s end was completely spooked. “No one was wearing masks, everyone was incredibly drunk — and while air-kissing good-bye, a woman yelled to a friend to ‘call me ... I can score you a vaccine’!”

So what do you do?

When faced with a school break during a pandemic accompanied by a polar vortex (a phenomenon that involves agitated arctic air that makes your face-masked face feel like it’s going to fall off), why not head north, pushing yourself farther into the vortex? Because that is exactly what we did. Vortex be dammed, COVID-regulated skiing is on offer — even though self-serve hot chocolate is not. Protocols can be followed, even if dreams of escaping your family cannot.

“Skiing is not essential travel,” Ian told me.

“Define ‘essential,’ ” was my response.

And there it is … PERSONAL JUDGMENT.

“I think if COVID has taught us anything,” my friend said, “it’s that no one really trusts each other.”

Even in Greenwich. Even noncontiguously.

Claire Tisne Haft is a former publishing and film executive, raising her family in Greenwich while working on a freelance basis on books and films. She can be reached through her website at clairetisnehaft.com.